Cablegate: Food Security Situation in Zimbabwe


DE RUEHSB #0899/01 2771107
R 031107Z OCT 08




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. National assessments show that maize yield from the 2008 harvest
is the lowest on record; sorghum yield was only 60 percent of last
year's harvest. The Government of Zimbabwe (GOZ) must overcome
severe forex shortages and generate political will to mobilize
resources to meet the county's cereals shortfall. As a result of
the critical food shortages in country, Zimbabweans are resorting to
traditional coping mechanisms earlier than usual. CSAFE and WFP are
registering families to provide large scale food distributions
towards the end of October. According to the FAO and farmers'
unions, there is a critical shortage of both seeds and fertilizer in
the country. It is too late to procure, ship, and distribute these
inputs as they need to be in the farmers' hands by the end of
October for planting with the first rains. Instead, the FAO
recommends trying to provide inputs for the second planting in
January/February for roots, tubers, wheat, legumes and seed
production. FAO strongly recommends donors and NGOs start planning
now for the 2009-2010 agricultural season. END SUMMARY.


2. According to national assessments, the 2008 national average
yield of maize production was the lowest on record at 270 kg per
hectare and only about 40 percent of that in 2007 (600 kg/ha). The
previous lows (150-160 percent of 2008's yield), in 1992 and 2002,
were years of extreme drought. The exceptionally low yield in 2008
is largely attributed to late planting due to untimely and
inadequate delivery of agricultural inputs, lack of working capital
and fuel, and poor condition of draught animals following the
drought in 2007. Fertilizer was unavailable. The estimated 2008
sorghum yield (205 kg/ha) was 60 percent of last year's and the
third lowest recorded from 1980.

3. Estimates for international food aid requirements assumed that
the bulk of the deficit would be covered by government imports.
This is increasingly unlikely. The GOZ said earlier this year that
it would import 800,000 MT, but its performance will depend on
political will and access to hard currency. At the monthly FAO
Agricultural Coordination Meeting last week, FAO reported that the
GOZ had imported 250,000 MT to date. At a meeting with the WFP,
senior government officials indicated that they may not be able to
pay for earlier commitments for commodities. Furthermore, the
GOZ's Grain Marketing Board (GMB) distribution system is extremely
inefficient, leaving many parts of the country without consistent
access to grains. Moreover, the GMB is subject to political
manipulation at the local level. A private sector supply system is
illegal as the GMB has a statutory monopoly on all imported grains.
Efforts by NGOs and WFP can help, but not fully replace this system.

4. Reports from many rural areas indicate already poor, and further
declining, availability of cereal. In some areas, availability
should improve marginally after the rains begin and agriculture
resumes, as farmers who produced in excess of their needs begin to
pay out their surplus to casual laborers. Due to the national
shortage of cash, barter has become common in rural areas. In the
urban areas, cash withdrawal limits imposed by the Reserve Bank of
Zimbabwe (RBZ) and banks inability to supply cash add to people's
difficulties in purchasing the little food that is available.

5. Coping mechanisms include reducing meals and portions, increased
reliance on wild fruits, and increased selling of livestock.
Divestment of too many livestock will only knock households further
back, resulting in higher numbers in need of food aid and a longer
recovery period to food security and stabilized livelihoods.

6. Despite all these indications of cereal shortages, the most
recent nutritional surveillance data (July 2008) showed that
malnutrition among young children remains well below emergency
levels, i.e. almost normal, in the seven districts surveyed, which
were chosen because they previously showed indications of a rising
trend. The failure of this traditional indicator to indicate
extreme crisis could be partially due to cultural intra-household
practices that tend to direct food to protect the young.

7. However, there are other factors that could lead to
overestimates of the country's cereal deficit. Most likely is that
the national requirement for cereal has been grossly overestimated
due to an overblown population figure. Estimates of deficits have
been based on populations extrapolated from the last census (2002),
and the reliability of this census is questionable (subject to
political manipulation and under-resourcing of census takers).
Also, no account has been taken of the large scale out-migration
from Zimbabwe. Other factors not considered are the potential
effect of AIDS mortality exacerbated by poor access to health care
and shortage of health care providers and drugs.

8. The food security technical group also believes that informal
cross-border trade of cereals and other food has not been adequately
considered. FEWSNET tracking does not capture the small quantities
imported by the hundreds of thousands that cross the borders monthly
and return with their vehicle trunks and small trailers loaded with


9. The GOZ's nearly three-month ban on NGO field operations was
lifted at the end of August. Both WFP and CSAFE are now registering
and verifying vulnerable families throughout the country for free
food distribution. Few access problems have been reported. Large
scale distribution will be phased in, with the first distributions
expected in mid to late October once the registration/verification
process is completed. CSAFE school-based feeding for pre- and
primary-school children in rural areas is at nearly 100 percent
capacity, despite high teacher absenteeism, because the program does
not depend on teacher participation. School aged children (3-14
years) are welcomed to eat whether they attend classes or not.

10. USAID/FFP has contributed 151,500 MT of food to CSAFE and WFP
valued at USD 175 million in FY08. As USAID/FFP is contributing
more than 65 percent of WFP's current pipeline; additional resource
requests will be scrutinized closely. Approximately 47,000 MT of
CSAFE food has already arrived in Durban and is being delivered to
Zimbabwe as fast as possible utilizing 30-ton trucks.

11. WFP has issued a local appeal to help cover a USD 151 million
shortfall. In their response to the appeal, the EU and the
Governments of the UK, Sweden, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, and
Canada indicated last week that they planned further contributions
to WFP given it was too late to fund seed and fertilizer
distribution programs for this year.


12. There are major shortfalls in both seeds and fertilizers for
the quickly approaching agricultural season. The UN/FAO and
Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe estimate that 10,000 MT of
maize seeds are available against a 30,000 plus MT requirement.
Further, 18,500 MT of fertilizer are available against a 167,000 MT

13. The consensus of FAO, numerous donors including USAID/OFDA, and
NGOs is that it is too late to bring in seeds and fertilizers for
the 2008/2009 cereal season. Insufficient time exists for
seed/fertilizer procurement, transport, registration, and
distribution to enable planting before the first rains. The
Southern Africa Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF) forecast for
this year predicts normal to above-normal rainfall in
October-December, but normal to below-normal rainfall in January-
March. This means that farmers must plant early - by the first
rains (approximately November 15) - if they are to have a decent
harvest. Planting after that date, even with the best seeds and
inputs, will produce extremely low crop yields. Donor investment
should instead focus on preparing for next year's season and on
mitigating some of the shortfall through programs that support the
January/February planting season of roots, tubers, wheat, legumes
and seeds and that provide top dressing fertilizer.

14. The prevalence and types of disease among livestock have been
steadily increasing over the past few years, and the GOZ vet
extension workers are immobilized by the current economic conditions
(inadequate salaries and lack of vehicles, fuel and livestock
drugs). In addition, livestock diseases increase during the rainy
season. FAO is convening a meeting with the major donors on October
6 to discuss agricultural sector priorities for the next 12-month


15. Planning and preparations for the 2009/2010 season should start
now and include:

- Seed production support for next year. It should be kept in mind
that if prices are too low, like now, farmers will not be interested
in producing seed.

- Assistance with the supply of fertilizer and seeds/cuttings for
the February 2009 planting (sugar beans, Michigan peas, cow peas,
wheat, sweet potato and cassava).

- Expansion of initiatives underway in rural irrigation schemes,
dams, and boreholes combined with conservation agriculture
interventions and expansion of irrigated gardens. At present, a
large segment of the rural population is surviving off their

- Supporting livestock and agriculture extension services. There
are currently 7,000 immobile Agritex Officers who are unable to work
due to lack of fuel.

- Strengthening and tapping into the expertise of farmers' unions.

16. The OFDA Regional Advisor is consulting with NGOs and FAO on
providing support for interventions for the February planting season
as well as potential agricultural activities over the next


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